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Parsha Vayera

10/25/2018 09:58:22 PM

Oct25

The ability to “see” is highlighted quite a few times in the Parsha, and it seems that supernatural sight is the instrument that facilitates the miracles of the Parsha.  “Avraham raises his eyes and sees three men coming” is the way he greets the angels, then in the Akeida episode, “Avraham raises his eyes and sees the place from afar” to “find” the location of the Akeida, and finally, “Avraham raises his eyes and saw a ram caught in the thicket by its horns” in the aftermath of the Akeida.  “Raises his eye” is the common phrase that enables all these events to occur, and we should wonder what the significance of this phrase is.  

Parshas Lech Lecha was the first to introduce us to this unique phrase, as it appears when Lot separates from Avraham and is choosing a new home, where it says: “And lot raised his eyes and saw the entire  plain of the Jordan.”  Furthermore, after Lot leaves and God converses with Avraham and guarantees the Land of Israel, he instructs Avraham to “raise his eyes and look out to the Land.”   In this context, the Kli Yakar explains that God wanted Avraham to create a spiritual connection with the Land that could only be accomplished by raising his eyes in transcendent manner to take in the full breath and meaning of the Land.  Although seeing land cannot create a binding monetary acquisition of the Land, “raising his eyes” would somehow build a spiritual connection to the Land.  By the same token, Lot uses the same transcendent power to choose the evils of Sedom, as he not only saw the land in the simple sense, but rather “raised his eyes” to connect his very soul and essence to what he could envision in the Land.  

“Raising eyes” represents the capacity to step out of our little constraining “bubbles” to connect on a deeper level to something beyond us, and as such, “raising eyes” can introduce prophetic moments, encounters with angels, and even moments when someone is able to forge an eternal spiritual connection to something beyond.  

We often talk of the concept of “looking up” to someone or something, and perhaps, “raising eyes” and “looking up” are not that different.  Our vision intakes endless information, and not that many things that we look at are we actually “looking up” to, but when those rare moments come, these almost epiphanic moments bind strong internal connections.  

There are a few narratives in the Torah use traces of romantic language, such as the description of Yitzchak meeting his new wife-to-be, Rifka.  Introducing Yitzchak’s first sight of Rifka, and conversely, Rifka’s first sight of Yitzchak, the Torah says they “raised their eyes” and noticed each other.  Similarly, albeit in a very different context of romance, when Potifar’s wife desires Yosef, the Pasuk says that she “raised her eyes” and wanted to be with Yosef.  Romantic pull occurs when someone feels themselves drawn to something higher and beyond when associated with the other party, and so the Pasuk reflects this pull by prefacing that they each, respectively, “raised their eyes.”

R’ Nachman of Breslov famously suggested that the word “Shema”  of Shema Yisroel can be understood as an acronym for “Se’u Marom Einechem”-raise you eyes upwards, taken from the verse in Isaiah 40: Raise you eyes upwards and see who created the world.”  (Sin for Se’u, mem for marom, and ayin for einechem)  We can only believe by “raising our eyes” and feeling connected with something beyond us, to allow ourselves, at least momentarily, to stop looking and start “looking up.”  When a person has trouble seeing something distant, squinting may help intake the sight, but when a matter is so distant that it transcends sight completely, the only solution is fully close our eyes, raise them upwards, and then allow the words of Shema to overtake us.  

Later on in the Parsha, we read about Hagar who also uses sight to find miraculous water, as the Pasuk says: “And God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water.”  What does it mean to open eyes and how does it differ from raising eyes?  Previously, immediately after Hagar is banished from Avraham’s house, the Torah says that she wandered in the desert of Be’er Sheva, and Rashi explains Hagar’s wandering to mean that she returned to idolatry after being “hurt” and smitten from Avraham’s banishment.  Regressing to old habits, Hagar is lost and wandering in the desert, unsure of where to go and even who she is, and in this horrific state, she lacks the clarity of even simple vision.  Blinded by pain and grief, she in incapable of recognizing the water right before her eyes, and it takes opening eyes for her to appreciate that God has not forsaken her and that there is a hopeful future for her in Avraham’s home.  There are times when we are blinded, such as Hagar in her state of grief, and God simply opens our eyes to enlighten us, but at other times, we must raise our eyes to connect with something truly beyond us.  

Fri, January 18 2019 12 Shevat 5779